Airborne Sensor Platforms

Airborne Sensor Platforms

Airborne Sensing has a wide variety of twin engine aircraft capable of supporting a range of sensors. As aerial mapping demands a versatile range of performance, Airborne Sensing has evolved to offer a wide spectrum of capabilities. This includes aircraft capable of slow flight at low altitudes — permitting large-scale imagery — to aircraft capable of high speed flight at high altitudes — permitting rapid capture of images covering a wide area.

Using exclusively twin-engine aircraft offers a variety of advantages. Airborne Sensing frequently operates over large stretches of uninhabited terrain, and also over water. In the unlikely event of an engine failure, a twin-engine aircraft can continue operations, providing a greater margin of safety. With twin-mounted engines, neither exhaust nor cooling air from around the engine flows near the sensor, providing sharper optics. The vibrations characteristic of twin engine aircraft also cause less deterioration of image quality.

The Airborne fleet consists of the following aircraft: Two (2) Piper Aztecs, Two (2) Piper Navajos, and a Rockwell Commander.

Aircraft and capabilities

The Piper Aztec is probably the most versatile light twin-engine aircraft available for photo survey. Its aerodynamic characteristics allow for slow flight at low altitudes, yet with its turbocharged engine, it can also fly to near-jet altitudes. In addition, the highest point of the fuselage is located where the camera is mounted, so the GPS antenna can be positioned directly above, simplifying the translation of camera positions for aerial triangulation.



The Piper Navajo features a slightly faster low-end speed than the Aztec, but offers both a substantial increase in range and payload.  Missions that take place over large areas are more efficiently covered with the Navajo than the Aztec, and the extra equipment required to accompany a crew for combined aerial surveys and GPS ground surveys can be carried on board for quick mobilization to the project area. Flight is extremely stable even without autopilot and there is an increased margin of safety.  Both our Navajos can simultaneously host large format image sensors and LIDAR devices.



The Rockwell Commander 840 offers one of the peak designs for a midsized survey aircraft in terms of range, speed and altitude.  This aircraft is capable of producing imagery at an extremely rapid rate and facilitates our work on projects far removed from our base. The pressurized cabin of the Commander affords a more comfortable working environment for the flight crew, and also provides some advantage to the functioning of our camera systems. [The Commander can simultaneously host large format image sensors and LIDAR devices.]



Piper Aztec PA-27/250 Model F Turbocharged
Canadian registry: C‑GIQC / C-FIDS Ceiling: 27,000 ft. A.S.L. /
Cruise Speed: 170 knots Endurance: 4.5 to 7.5 hours with 45-minute reserve

Piper Navajo C/R PA-31-325 Turbocharged
Canadian registry: C‑FPXL / C-FLNZ Ceiling: 27,000 ft. A.S.L. /
Cruise Speed: 185 knots Endurance: 4.5 to 7.5 hours with 45-minute reserve

Rockwell Commander AC-90/840
Canadian Registry: C-FSNP Ceiling: 31,000 ASL /
Cruise Speed: 290 knots Endurance: 6 to 7 hours with 45 minute reserve

Sensor Platform Innovations

Since its inception, Airborne Sensing has been a leader in developing innovative platforms for conducting aerial survey operations. In more recent years, our notable innovations include the development of helicopter-based survey operations and creation of simultaneous multi-sensor platforms.

Helicopter-Based Surveying
In 2002, in response to a need for extremely detailed pavement surface mapping, Airborne Sensing developed a system to mount a large format survey camera onto a helicopter, and this system is available for projects requiring similar levels of detail. Airborne Sensing provides helicopter-based survey operations as special order items as opposed to the “on demand” service levels of our fixed wing platforms with their integrated sensors. The benefit of such operations, however, is the possibility of supporting flights as near as 500’ above mean terrain, offering extremely large-scale imagery with accuracy comparable to ground-surveys. This system is ideal for projects where ground-survey-level accuracy is required but, due to hazards, unobtainable. Examples of such projects include: switching yards, high voltage transformer stations, refineries, inaccessible wildlife surveys.

Simultaneous Multi-Sensor Platforms
Airborne Sensing has two aircraft capable of carrying two large format sensors for simultaneous operation. This is important for research and development work when comparing different sensors. Increasingly, this dual-sensor more is also being used on projects where simultaneous capture of LIDAR and photo data is required for the most detailed analysis possible. An added benefit of this capacity arises when working in remote areas: only one aircraft needs to be deployed to a site for projects with different sensor operations, increasing the economy of operation for Airborne.

LIDAR Capable
Our aircraft are equipped to conduct LIDAR operations. Airborne Sensing has researched the salient differences between photographic and LIDAR Digital Surface Models (DSMs) through projects in Burlington and Montreal where LIDAR and digital photographic sensors were used simultaneously, and has confirmed that the DSMs produced through our digital aerial imagery and position data are comparable to LIDAR data in most circumstances.

Integrated Flight Management Systems

Airborne Sensing has over 30 years experience integrating sensors with navigation devices and over 20 years experience with GPS-based flight management systems.

Since 2005, the primary flight management system (FMS) used by Airborne Sensing has been the “XTrack” FMS developed by Track’Air BV. This system offers flight planning, precise, easy-to-read navigation displays, sensor management and full integration of onboard GNSS/IMU positioning devices and gyrostabilized platforms, correcting the sensor position to account for small changes in aircraft attitude.

In addition, the FMS provides a very comprehensive metadata management suite of tools enabling efficient, robust reporting and organizing of flight data sets that can be machine-read within the photogrammetric process. Reliable ground coverage and sufficient overlap of imagery are almost completely guaranteed through the automated system.

Airborne Sensing has developed its own in-house software to automatically integrate the navigation outputs of Track’Air with the precise outputs of our GNSS/IMU system. The Airborne Sensing geomatics team can directly geo-reference all image and LIDAR products directly into a Geographic Information System (GIS), such as used by our clients. The GNSS/IMU Position Orientation System can also provide inputs to automated mapping and aerial triangulation operations, to provide higher accuracy of data than direct outputs alone.

Trackair integrates with the Applanix system of Positioning and Orientation (POS AV) and the onboard GSM 3000 stabilized mount manufactured by SOMAG AG Jena.